The first thing that happens when a project goes live is that deadlines begin hurtling towards you at an alarming rate and you find yourself embarking on a series of ever more insistent countdowns. An otherwise grey and non-descript Friday in mid-February is suddenly transformed into the metaphorical equivalent of the downwards sweep of a racing flag and screeching of tyres as the shout goes out ‘Just 3 Days to go to the start of construction!’. Outside, you glimpse lorries off-loading, diggers bedding in and a growing chorus of white hard hats assembling and preparing for the off.
Monday morning arrives and you pause to take stock, noting with satisfaction and a hefty dose of relief the reassuring hum of activity around the muddy entrance gates. You shade in the boxes on the wall planner to indicate completion of Stage 1, sip your umpteenth cup of tea and cue up the next count down: ‘12 weeks until the lift shaft goes in’; ’20 weeks until we reach the 1st floor’; ’24 weeks until the glazing begins’. On they rumble, these countdowns, carrying everyone towards the final destination and the glorious day when the finish line is reached and we all step back and revel in the splendours of our beautiful new building.
These are exciting, adrenaline fuelled times of course but, in truth, there’s an underlying tremor of anxiety. The bricks and mortar (or in our case, concrete and stone) suddenly feel the least of our worries as the enormity of all the other tasks that need addressing begin to loom large. Up until now the design, engineering and costing of the building has dominated every waking day – but now there’s a growing pile of strategic plans competing for attention. These are plans that centre on the core audiences but also the new visitors we hope to attract; the artists who already consider St George’s to be a musical home from home and those who are waiting and yearning to be invited to perform. The artists of today, the talent emerging tomorrow. How can we meet everyone’s expectations and even exceed them? How can we ensure that the person who thinks ‘St George’s isn’t for me’ is given strong reasons to challenge this; empowered to take those self-conscious first steps inside and to sit down and listen or perhaps even to participate? Together, these plans and others constitute the ‘why’, the force that drives us forward and fuels the dream.
I pick up a narrow file that has found itself pushed towards the end of a bookcase, competing for space with an ever growing line of its wider and punchier Business Plans, Programmes and Meeting Schedules. It reads ‘St George’s 2020 Vision – Achieving our Future’. It is dated 2011. I flick to the last page of the file for this is where it all started: the notes made at a workshop session with our Board and senior staff team where all our thoughts, concerns and aspirations spilled out across an afternoon of lively discussion and debate. Some of the people who were there that day are still with us and we count them amongst our very closest supporters. Some, like Richard Lee, have sadly departed but have left with us their inspiration and unshakeable belief in the value of our vision. Others have joined us along the way, creating a super team (or perhaps ‘stream’) of volunteers who have stepped in to help on subjects as diverse as café suppliers, planning consent and the history of early 19th century Bristol.
I pick up another file: Artistic Plans for the Relaunch Week & Beyond. Pencil notes scribbled at the top of a page: ‘Make a splash’; ‘Old friends and new’; ‘Celebrate and set the tone’; ‘Excite and inspire – a few surprises?’ . My inner voice chimes in with ‘12 months and counting’. I pick up the phone and call …. well, wait and see!
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